Priya Rama is an Abstract Expressionist that creates meditative and highly saturated paintings depicting the optic illusions that she interacts with during intense migraines. It was during a pursuit of a PhD that forced her to travel daily while maintaining a family life that pushed her experience with migraines into an overwhelming part of her life; making her, one day, decide to paint the optical effects associated with her migraines.
She has grown to develop this practice into a meditation, learning to subtly control the migraine to a manageable pain while she documents her optical auras caused by the pressure from the migraine; and working to manage the entrepreneurial details of being a working artist, when she isn’t being effected by pain.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Priya Rama: We moved to our home in 2009. This was first our study where we had our books. [The studio] sort of evolved and shaped as I’ve moved forward with my art practice; slowly people are starting to remember me and recognize my work. I’ve started going and talking to art therapy groups. Painting, for me, has really made me accept my migraines. I’ve been fighting them for so long because that’s what we do. The moment you face pain, you immediately try to cope and deal with it, with medication. Often, we’re (chronic pain sufferers) just so tight, the body; we don’t even realize we’re clenching our jaws and that it might worsen the pain. I don’t fight it anymore, because I’m almost looking forward, in a strange way, to what I might see. I just deal with it and accept it, so I think I’m much happier, relaxed, and calmer now because I accept them, I’m very mindful of them, living in the moment and enjoying them.
F-D: When you moved into this studio, did you have an idea of how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
PR: It developed organically. Initially, I had all the books here and I still had my canvas there. The desk has moved around a lot. I would love to have 2-3 times the space because I tend to work on multiple canvases at the same time and would like to not have to worry about the floors and things like that, but if things get messy, they get messy. It’s just a very peaceful process, being here. If my studio isn’t organized, I can’t move forward. The urge to put things in their place is so strong that I just have to.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself, inside and outside of the studio?
PR: I try to paint everyday. This month has been busy and I haven’t been able to do that. A typical day: I’ll come and have a lot of work on multiple canvases so I’ll spend at least 2-3 hours everyday working, and often many more hours than that. I’ll think about what I saw during my migraine and what it means in terms of mood and how the colors work together. Then I start painting my layers. Outside the studio, I participate in juried art fairs and juried art shows in galleries—this keeps me busy.
F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?
PR: I think having the studio at home has helped me become productive. I don’t have to leave home, so I can just paint any time, sometimes even through my migraines. I also have white lights, so I paint at night, too, depending on if I can sleep or not. Having a studio right at home is comfortable! Being in Mason, and because most of the art community is in Cincinnati, I have to do a lot of driving sometimes. I don’t always get to all of the opening [receptions] that I want to, so that is a disadvantage.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
PR: I think the work that I do falls into abstract expressionism, as I’m relying on color and texture as well as organic forms, and most importantly capturing my visions through spontaneous, mindful and almost unconscious brushstrokes. where things look sort of botanical.Sometimes, organic forms make an appearance. You might see things that look like lily pads or flower clusters or things that remind you of nature in a way. My work is very colorful and my visions are very bright. They’re very dramatic in terms of color combinations. These visions are multi-dimensional, and sometimes it’s in a way that I find it a challenge to capture onto a 2D canvas.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
PR: Mostly acrylic. Sometimes I use a medium that allows me to add that glass and glitter effect.
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
PR: When I first started, I was just quickly trying to capture everything I see and quickly document it. I’ve slowed down so that I can meditate and see what’s going on and how best I can capture the my vision on the canvas. All of the layers are important tome; the mark making is spontaneous, yet very deliberate. I have to fight through the discomfort and continue, not stopping or walking away. Sometimes that changes; I can’t sit through the pain all of the time, but I can most of the time. I’ve trained myself over the years to work through the pain.
F-D: How much do you work/paint when you don’t have a migraine?
PR: A good amount. I’ll finish the piece, I’ll get it wired, varnished, photograph it, upload it on social media. More of the maintenance kind of work. I take advantage of my time when I’m not in pain and try to get a lot done.
F-D: Do you work with any narratives, plot, or progressing ideas?
PR: I think it’s more like trying to understand and obsess with this migraine phenomenon. I think what I see is very unique. In a sense, I feel like everyone sees something, but what I see is unique to me. In the art shows, I’ve come across people who have said that my paintings were exactly what they saw in their heads. That’s when I ask myself, “What is it about a migraine that makes two physically independent people see the same thing?” I don’t have the medical knowledge to go through it, so I’ve been trying to work with my neurologist to see if this can be studied. I’m just fascinated with this medical phenomenon and what our body can do and what it produces under duress. I have been trying to reach out and talk to other people about this as well.
F-D: Do you think you’d be interested in collecting data of other migraine sufferers?
PR: Absolutely. I’m very willing to offer myself and my art for research purposes.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical and does personal history make it’s way into your work?
PR: I think so, I think they’re all self-portraits in a way. They’re all from me and a part of me, so yeah, it’s very autobiographical. Some of it is influenced by what I’ve experienced the day or two before and some of that comes through in the colors, for sure. I think these images are all coming from a part of the brain that taps into other parts of the brain, in terms of memory, experience, or whatever is stored up there. It’s all interconnected and it comes out this way.
F-D: Can you recall any sort of pattern that occurs for the specific colors that you see?
PR: I’ve paid attention to the location of the migraine, and . I have noticed that the cooler colors are when they migraine is waning and when it’s really intense and very painful, I see a lot of reds. I don’t know if my knowledge of art and color came first in influences ing this, or not.
F-D: What influences outside of the visual arts impact and inspire your approach to making work?
PR: Everything! I’m a very visual learner. Everything I experience is on those terms. I’m so into art anyway, I think all of that influences me. I certainly don’t think I’m devoid of any influence; everything that I see and feel has subliminally influenced me somehow or the other. Water also relaxes and comforts me.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process and how do you make the space work for you?
PR: That I can do whatever I want, this is my space and my zone. I’m very grateful that I can do this. I don’t have to go and rent out a space, I can stay comfortable at home and create. Studios can also have a lot of interruptions, so here I can do things how I want and when I want.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction or visual art or culture and which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
PR: Abstract expressionism; I just go and work intuitively, not thinking too much about where to place a mark. I know when to begin and I intuitively know when to stop, too.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that you live by as an artist?
PR: I always say that I am transforming pain into beauty. I push myself to live beyond the realm of chronic pain.
F-D: When asked, what do you tell people you do for a living?
PR: I tell them I’m an artist; I’m a painter. For a lot of people, they think I mean that I paint house walls, but I tell them, no, I’m a canvas painter. I call myself a migraine artist, which is a term I came up with and use for myself.
F-D: What risks have you taken in or for your work?
PR: The risk, I think, is deciding to do this full time -- not working, giving up the financial responsibility and relying on my husband for support. I didn’t know how people would react to it or receive it. Even now, I just keep creating and creating, without thinking about if it’ll get sold or not. I just have to paint all the time. The moment you put a mark on the canvas, you don’t know how it’ll turn out, so that’s also another risk.
F-D: Words of wisdom?
PR: Just do it. Don’t be afraid. You’ve got to push yourself because no one else can do it for you. You’ve got to find that inner strength and energy and just find a space for yourself where you’re happy no matter what anyone else says.
F-D: Is there something you’re currently working on or excited about starting that you can tell us about? And are you involved in any upcoming shows or events?
PR: I won “Best New Artist” at the 2018 Milford Art Affaire. I’ll be doing the Hyde Park Art Show in October. Two of my paintings were accepted into Art North. I’ll also be part of a group show at the Fitton Center called “Twilight” and I’m excited about that. I have a book that was recently published—Migraine Visions : Transforming Pain Into Beauty. It has fifty of my earlier works; it was published late last year. There are plans to do a sequel.